Sunshine Law Rendered Meaningless?

15 11 2007

Russ McBee breaks down the ramifications of changes in the Sunshine Law just about as good as I’ve seen. I honestly don’t think that people always understand the need for Open Government. It is also my opinion that it is a variety of things, including corporate entities with public ties that fall under the law that want this changed as much as politicians, who want to do what they want to do without intervention.

What Russ says:

The sunshine law prevents the heads of those two camps from meeting in secret to hammer out an agreement between them and thus garnering a majority of the commission by virtue of their leadership positions. By increasing the forbidden number of members meeting in secret to four (as the committee has proposed), the spirit and intent of the sunshine law will be rendered meaningless.

Sunshine has a fatal effect on vampires; I guess it’s no surprise the blood-suckers in our county government want to shield themselves from it.

I go back to it being the government of the people. Not journalists, but people.  The Memphis Daily Journal has the AP story about the possible changes.

There is a battle going on, did you know that? It’s about the right to know. You might think all this stuff is small potatoes or think it doesn’t affect you, but it does.

Four members being able to meet in private is too many. The business of government needs to be out in the open. I’ve been to hundreds of meetings where no one, except a couple of members of the press, never showed up. But they could. Tennesseans had the option.

Then, I’ve been to hot-topic meetings (consolidation of the high schools in the mid-90’s comes to mind) where you couldn’t move due to the sea of outraged citizens. I covered the meeting sitting at a judges desk sharing a chair with a man while holding a microphone (I was in radio then.)

The people decided that particular issue was important. They wanted to know what was going on. This, of course, is just an example but remember this. THE PEOPLE DECIDED they needed to exercise their voice and they did. They decided to use their rights.

They had the option to know.

The whole thing in Knoxville is so transparent that it would be laughable if it wasn’t sickening. Then, this happens. Private-deals get the commission in hot water, so now a legislative committee wants to change the way open meetings are held?  Coincidence, maybe, but folks in control have wanted to change the Sunshine Law for years. It’s inconvenient for them.

Well, good.

Imagine if no one could have gone to that consolidation meeting fifteen years ago. Imagine if there hadn’t been a dialogue about the future of their kids. There was a compromise made which suited no one, but the people’s voice was heard. Mind-boggling.

If these laws are changed, then it will take a generation to get them changed back. And, the laws are really ambiguous enough right now to confuse people who think these laws are just for journalists. Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has been preaching this for years.

This issue is important. And we need to raise our voices to the rooftops.

Don’t give up your rights. They are yours. It’s your government, God knows you are paying for those meetings with your tax dollars.




3 responses

15 11 2007

‘Coma, you’re absolutely right about the sunshine law protecting the people’s right to know, and not just journalists. You said it very well.

The way I see it, the violations of the sunshine law by Knox County Commission were acts of unparalleled hubris, unmatched in their arrogance until this legislative committee came forward with its proposal to gut the sunshine law.

So, we now have a situation where the “solution” to the Knox County problem is to basically do away with any pretense of openness at all, since those pesky lawsuits and findings of contempt get in the way of Commission doing its business.

It’s just too bad Commission’s business is no longer the same thing as the people’s business.

15 11 2007

Your last sentence hit the entire situation on the head. And I will add that other legislative bodies are jumping on it like wildfire.
That scares the hell out of me.

This isn’t good.
This is where bloggers come in. We need to keep this conversation going and we need some folks in Nashville in government to step out and say that they are going to protect their constituents, not hide from them. The diminishing of the Open Meetings Act will only put everything including utility companies, telecom industry, etc. actions where “BAM” we have new laws that we had no idea that were going on. People need to be able to watch governmental policy progress through the different phases and not be thrown a bone when it’s convenient.
Now, back to bloggers, it’s one step in keeping the issue out there. And, we can hope folks at TCOG can keep an open and honest debate about Sunshine Laws out there as well.
I’m an optimist, actually, so I’m hopeful. So, people need to write letters, we need to blog and folks need to realize it’s not the evil media that these laws protect and help.

It’s the American people.

15 11 2007
Volunteer Voters » Keeping Our Options Open

[…] Newscoma reminds us that just because most folks don’t ever care to take advantage of open government, it must be there for when they do choose to use the power: There is a battle going on, did you know that? It’s about the right to know. You might think all this stuff is small potatoes or think it doesn’t affect you, but it does. […]

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